HC Deb 03 November 2003 vol 412 cc490-1W
Mr. Caton

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what action his Department is taking to make generic drugs available for treatment in developing countries. [135186]

Hilary Benn

The UK Government are committed to increasing access to medicines in the developing world. The factors recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) that can improve poor peoples' access are; affordable pricing, sustainable financing, reliable health and supply systems and the rational selection and use of existing drugs.

Clare Short chaired a UK high level working group on Increasing Access to Essential Medicines in the Developing World. which examined the factors above in detail. The working group made a series of recommendations for action, which are being taken forward by a number of major stakeholders.

The UK has played a leading role in setting up initiatives such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria (GFATM), which supply both generic and patented drugs. We want to play our part in making the Global Fund an effective instrument in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria and recognise that to do this, it needs predictable and sustainable financing. With this in mind, the UK pledged an additional US$80 million to the GFATM (US$40 million per annum over two further years). This will extend our current commitment to 2008 and bring our total contribution to the GFATM to US$280 million. Our funding will be subject to the GFATM achieving a better financing system, agreed benchmarks to monitor effectiveness, and to improve integration of the fund's activities with national programmes. This is one of a range of mechanisms for tackling HIV/AIDS; the UK also works with other partnerships, such as the Global TB drug Facility, that procure both generic and patented drugs.

In addition an agreement was reached at the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Cancun in September that will enable poor countries with no, or insufficient, manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector to import generic versions of patented medicines. The UK Government worked to secure this agreement and believe it to be a very significant step. The option to use compulsory licensing provides a useful bargaining tool for governments negotiating prices with suppliers of patented medicines and should encourage the latter to reduce prices. We will monitor its impact and work with developing countries to ensure that its implementation helps promote access to essential medicines.

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